Helping Hands and Open Hearts
By Edythe Hanen
The journey through later adulthood and old age is a path often overshadowed by loss upon loss—loss of health, both physical and cognitive; loss of the emotional strength that enables elders to contribute in ways they once did; and for many, the ultimate forfeiture: the perceived loss of dignity and respect.
In San Miguel, there are helping hands and open hearts in the SOME (So Others May Eat) program sponsored by Joe and Antonette Lim and their team of dedicated volunteers. Now in its 27th year of operation, the program, fueled only through their own efforts and donations from supporters, continues to expand. The Lims’ efforts support the poorest and the most vulnerable citizens: the elderly. The program extends to what they call “the four corners” of San Miguel: Celaya, Salida de Queretaro, Dolores, and Centro. As well as busing these elders in from the campo, the program provides them with not only physical sustenance, but also with a place for social interaction. Both their bodies and their souls are fed.
The focus of the SOME program is teaching. The lessons range from instruction on how to wash using just one liter of water to how to apply events such as Holy Week celebrations to their own day-to-day lives. The feeding program is held each Wednesday in the atrium of the Parroquia, but beyond that, team leaders visit elders in their homes. They help with many of the simple requirements of their lives, such as coaching them in filling out forms that will enable them to receive medical care. These volunteers support the elders through times of suffering and help prepare them for their time of death.
In a home environment, volunteers encourage the elderly to help preserve their culture through believing in the importance of their lives within the family structure and through understanding the significance of passing on to family members, particularly grandchildren, the wisdom they’ve acquired through their years of living. They are supported in celebrating their own worth and encouraged not only to understand the necessity of forgiveness, kindness, and respect but to pass this knowledge on to their often struggling families.
One of the program’s greatest blessings is the gift of dignity and respect as they journey through their final life passage. In preparation for their death, they are also taught “preparation for their soul.” They are given a diploma, a simple document signed by a priest, with their photograph and a statement that affirms that they have been valued contributors to the SOME program and that they have lived and died with honor and respect.
Often disenfranchised and poor, these elders, says Antonette Lim, are “spiritually rich.” Their final document tells a simple story of their lives, but the most valued is this simple statement: I was here. I contributed. My life mattered. Let none of us forget that truth.
Edythe Anstey Hanen is a writer who lives on Bowen Island, BC, and spends winters in San Miguel.